In his lifetime Churchill published more than forty books in sixty volumes, as well as hundreds of articles. In 1953 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his contribution to the written and spoken word. While he is celebrated for his wit and colourful quotations, it is for the impact of his speeches and broadcasts that he is now justly remembered as a Man of Words. Whether warning of the dangers of fascism, rallying the British nation against attack or wrestling with the problems of the Cold War, ‘he mobilised the English language and sent it into battle’. You will already know lots of Churchillian phrases, even if you don’t realise they were spoken by Churchill: ‘Blood, toil, tears and sweat’(often misquoted as ‘blood, sweat and tears’), ‘this was their finest Hour’, ‘never … was so much owed by so many to so few’. This Churchill: Man of Words section will help you learn more about how Winston Churchill, how the man became the master of words.
‘I feel devoutly thankful to have been born fond of writing.’
Churchill, Authors’ Club, London, 17 February 1908
Churchill wasn’t a born orator. He worked very hard to transform himself into a great public speaker. He didn’t have a particularly attractive speaking voice. Early in his career, he talked in a monotone, without much change in pitch, pace or volume. He also suffered from a speech impediment – he had difficulty pronouncing the letter “s”, not helpful in a public speaker. But he understood the power that words, both written and spoken, could have on an audience and was determined to master public speaking – and do it well. At the age of only twenty-two, when he’d only made one public speech, he wrote an unpublished article on the art of speaking. He clearly realised the effect a really good speech could have on its audience.
‘Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king.’
Churchill, The Scaffolding of Rhetoric, his unpublished essay of 1897
The largest collection of Churchill’s speeches – made in the House of Commons between 1901 and 1955 – are to be found in Hansard (the verbatim record of all debates in Parliament). Many of Churchill’s speeches were collected together and published in book form either shortly after he gave them – he was always keen to capitalise on his writing through publishing – or over the subsequent years.
Churchill’s reputation as an orator is based principally on his speeches and broadcasts as Prime Minister during the summer of 1940 during a particularly vital point in the WWII when Britain was under the threat of invasion. You’ll probably know lots of famous phrases or quotes from these speeches: ‘We shall fight on the beaches’, ‘This was their finest hour’ and ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’. His most well-known and most quoted speeches are those known usually as ‘Blood, toil, tears and sweat’ (13 May), ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches’ (4 June) and ‘This was their Finest Hour’ (18 June), all of which were delivered in the House of Commons, though Churchill also broadcast the ‘Finest Hour’ speech over the BBC. He only made a total of five broadcasts to the nation during this vital stage of the Second World War (19 May, 17 June, 18 June, 14 July, 11 September), but these speeches conveyed Churchill’s determination and commitment, and they gave his country confidence. Did Winston’s Words Win the War? Click here to learn more.
‘It has been said words are the only things which last forever.’
Churchill, Press conference, Foreign Office, London (cited in Langworth, Churchill: In His Own Words), 10 June 1909
Annotated typescript first draft of ‘Finest Hour’ speech and broadcast, 18 June 1940. Here you can see the marked-up typescript of the first draft of one of Churchill’s most famous speeches, with the most iconic phrase at the bottom of the page: ‘this was their finest hour’. © Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill is perhaps now best remembered for his powerful speeches and broadcasts, particularly those delivered during the Second World War – ‘a series of speeches that rank with the greatest in British history’ (Simon Jenkins, in A Short History of Britain, 2011). He used his great skill with the written word, and his dedication to rehearsing its delivery, to influence a national and an international audience. His speeches were carefully crafted both to raise morale at home and to act as political and diplomatic weapons abroad, sending messages of defiance to the enemy and calls to arms to allies. Learn more about Churchill’s development as a speaker, in an exhibition showcasing relevant documents from the Churchill Archives, here. And this review of the exhibition in the New York Times here.
‘I was very glad that Mr Attlee described my speeches in the war as expressing the will not only of Parliament but of the whole nation. Their will was resolute and remorseless and, as it proved, unconquerable. It fell to me to express it, and if I found the right words you must remember that I have always earned my living by my pen and by my tongue. It was a nation and race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.’
Churchill, Westminster Hall, London, 30 November 1954
The American novelist was, in fact, famous earlier and much better known that his British counterpart; his novel Richard Carvel (1899) sold around two million copies. Later novels, The Crisis (1901) and The Crossing (1904) were also very popular. The two are still occasionally confused, mostly by sellers of second-hand books (having ‘Churchill’ as the author of books with similar titles – The Crisis and The World Crisis – doesn’t help).
Interestingly, both Churchills shared a lot in common; both had political careers, both were noted amateur painters, both attended military colleges and served (during the same period) as officers in the armed forces (the American Churchill was in the navy).
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